DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, August 11, 1998 - 1:35 P.M.
Presenter: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Mr. Bacon. Good afternoon. Welcome to the professor here. Glad you could all make it. I have no opening statement, so I'm ready to take your questions. Yes.

Q: Would you give us an idea, Ken, what efforts are being expended by this department to aid in the embassy explosions?

A: Well, yes. I can give you a fairly extensive rundown, but let me start by saying that, so far, we've flown 17 missions or flights over to East Africa. We've delivered approximately 400 military and civilian personnel to the area, and several hundred, I guess, 140, short tons of equipment.

So that's 17 missions over 120,000 miles, and these have been from Washington, from the Middle East, and from Germany -- 418 passengers and 140 short tons of equipment.

Let me break down what we've delivered so far:

We moved in a forward surgical team of 20 people, a combat stress control team of seven people.

We moved in two Marine Corps Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Teams of about 100 people. That's about 50 people each. One of those went to Nairobi and one went to Dar es Salaam.

Thirty Navy Seabees were moved in from Guam to assist in the recovery operations.

We've also moved in a mortuary affairs team, an Air Force aeromedical evacuation crew of seven people, a three-person critical care transport crew to help bring people out in medevac planes.

We've moved in over 200 units of blood. One of the crucial requirements was blood, and we moved that into Nairobi, primarily.

So that gives you a flavor of what support the military has provided over the last couple of days, and we stand ready to provide additional support if called upon but, as you know, there is a fairly large team there.

We have been supported by people from several different countries, including Israel, which sent a team of experts at finding bodies in bombed buildings, in rubble. There are British and Australian security personnel helping us, and South Africa also supplied the medical evacuation support.

Q: When will the embassy personnel who lost their lives in the bombing be coming home, and how will they be transported home?

A: They will be transported back from Germany in a C-17 on Thursday. They will arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, and there will be a ceremony presided over by President Clinton and involving Secretary Cohen, Secretary Albright, and Secretary Shalala. That is scheduled to take place at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday morning at Andrews Air Force Base.

As you know, Secretary Albright will leave and fly to Germany tomorrow. She will meet with some family members and talk to people in the hospitals there, and she'll come back with the caskets on the C-17 from Germany.

Q: How many remains are actually coming back to Andrews?

A: Well, 12 people were killed in this terrorist act, and I believe that one set of remains is staying in Kenya to be buried there, and another set of remains will come back, maybe it already has come back, the remains of Master Sergeant Olds, in the Air Force, will be buried in Florida. And I believe those remains, if they haven't been sent back already, will be sent back before the other ones.

Q: So are we going to have 10?

A: That's my understanding right now, that there will be ten sets of remains.

Q: There will be 10.

Q: Have there been any requests, or have you considered allowing any of those, of the ten, to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery?

A: I don't know the answer to that question right now.

Q: There is a precedent for it.

A: Well, certainly the three peace negotiators in Bosnia, including Joe Kruzel [former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs], were buried in Arlington Cemetery, those who died in 1995, I guess. But I don't know how many, if any, will be buried in Arlington. I just don't know the answer to that question.

Q: Is it still the case that, after Andrews, all the remains go to Dover for...

A: My understanding is that the three -- well, that the two -- that military personnel, the remains of military personnel, active duty military personnel, go to Dover, and that the other sets of remains probably will not, that they will go directly to other points, whether they're undertakers or funeral homes.

Q: Can I just ask you to take that question, because there's been a lot of conflict about whether -- very conflicting information about whether there will be criminal autopsies performed on those remains, as well. Will they go to Dover? Could you just take that question?

A: I'll take the question.

Q: Thank you.

Q: The uniformed military people, on the Arlington question again, I think, would be entitled to burial in Arlington, in any event.

A: I've said I'll take the Arlington question.

Q: Ken, any first-blush indications on the background for this attack, these attacks? Does it appear to be state-sponsored? Does it appear to be -- have you identified the explosive involved? And was there any indication or forewarning of an attack on these facilities?

A: All of those are very good questions, and I'm not going to answer any of them. These are the types of issues that are being considered by the FBI. They're part of an ongoing investigation.

I think that frequently, in cases like this, the early information turns out to be wrong, or fragmentary, and I think it makes much more sense just to let the investigators do their work, and when they finish, they'll report their findings.

Q: Now, what about the arrests, then, today, by the Kenyans?

A: My understanding is that local law enforcement authorities are questioning some people. I don't know whether they have been arrested or detained for questioning. That's really up to them to describe. But there has been some questioning taking place by local law enforcement authorities.

Q: A related question if I may. Israeli television is reporting now that the explosive found in one of the sites was Semtex. Has it ever been released here or determined what the explosive was at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran two years ago?

A: I would have to go back and refresh my memory on that. My recollection is that that was in the report that we released in 1996, but I just don't recall what we said. You can go back and look at the report, but I'll ask Colonel Bridges to look it up for you and get you the information.

Q: Mr. Bacon, some of the anecdotal stuff coming out of particularly Nairobi, perhaps unfortunately, has been along the lines of where was the cavalry. Ambassador Bushnell has referred to this issue, rather than [have any] misunderstandings.

But there is some contrast between the quick and forceful action of the Israelis, which everybody agrees the situation would have been a lot worse without them. Was the U.S. slow out of the gate here? And if so, why?

A: First of all, let me compliment the work of the Israelis. Minister Mordechai called Secretary Cohen to offer him condolences and he also offered him help; specifically asked if it would be useful for the Israelis to send a team of people experienced in dealing with rubble and extracting bodies and, we hope, living people. And Secretary Cohen readily accepted that offer.

Second, I think we responded very quickly to this. As I said, we flew 17 missions right away. We had medical people on the ground relatively quickly. We had a number of support activities. Remember, Africa is not really close to Europe or close to Andrews Air Force Base. We put together teams of people within hours of the disaster and had not only new security teams on the way, but medical teams on the way. We had 64 civilian rescue experts from Fairfax County shipped over there. We had dogs shipped over there. We had over 200 units of blood shipped there relatively quickly. So I don't buy that allegation that we didn't respond quickly enough.

Q: The rescue team from Alexandria claims it sat on the ground cooling its heels for 17 hours because the Air Force couldn't come up with an airplane. The first mercy flight out of Ramstein, the C-141, did not get off the ground until 13-1/2 hours after the bombing. It did not arrive in Nairobi until 26 hours afterwards. If you call 911 and you don't get an ambulance for 26 hours, I subscribe you're in trouble. How is that a fast response?

A: I think we had planes leaving from Andrews Air Force Base at around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. We had to assemble teams. We had to make sure we had the right people. We had to get the FBI people on board. And I submit to you that in the life of press people, this may seem like a long period of time, but in terms of putting together complex teams of experts, I think we operated relatively quickly here.

Q: Was this not a field hospital or something related, all containerized, supposedly ready to go?

A: We had containerized equipment, but one of the issues here was assembling more blood. We realized immediately that we needed special expertise in surgery and that we needed augmentation of blood supplies, so it took a little bit of time to put those together.

QThere's been a report that there were several incidents foiled against embassies in the past. Is there any way that you can discuss any similar incidents involving military bases at all?

A: Ambassador Pickering said last week that 30,000 threats a year are received against U.S. diplomatic installations around the world. And all these threats are taken seriously. They are processed. They are considered. They are analyzed. We receive thousands of threats every year about U.S. military personnel and U.S. military installations. It is the nature of intelligence and the nature of security that failures are public and successes are private, so I cannot go into detailed accounts of threats that we've foiled.

I can tell you that during a period of time when everybody realizes that terrorism has become a greater threat -- that's over the last decade or so -- that the number of attacks against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel has declined quite dramatically. There were 200 attacks against military and diplomatic personnel in 1986. There were eight in 1997. So over approximately a 10-year period, there has been a rather dramatic decline, and it was a steady decline. This is not just a matter of good luck. It is a matter of increased attention to security, increased attention to intelligence and increased vigilance on the part of soldiers and diplomats all over the world.

I might point out that if you look at casualties suffered by Americans in 1997, far more were suffered most -- the majority was suffered by American business personnel rather than by American diplomats or American soldiers. Now, I don't cite that for any other reason but to point out that Americans are vulnerable all around the world and I think that all Americans, public -- those who work for the government, and private -- those who don't, are paying more attention to security. It is not always a benign world out there and I think all Americans are working much harder to protect themselves.

Q: I'm sorry, what casualty numbers are you referring to?

A: I was referring to casualties suffered in attacks against Americans in 1997. There were 126 casualties in 1997, 104 of them were of business people.


Q: Secretary Cohen has threatened a very harsh response to anyone that's found responsible for these bombings, but we still don't know who did the Khobar Towers; is that right?

A: That is correct.

Q: How can the American public expect a vigorous response from this administration if -- what is it, four years later -- we still don't know who attacked those bases there?

A: Well, first of all, it's two years.

Q: A long time.

A: And second -- well, it has been a long time. And no one is more frustrated about that than Secretary Cohen or President Clinton, who has also promised a vigorous response and did so after the Khobar Towers bombing case.

These are very complex cases. They require a lot of intelligence work and investigative work. And that work is continuing. I think it's very clear from the amount of time we spent successfully tracking down the people responsible for the World Trade Center bombing, the amount of time we spent tracking down the person who shot people outside of the CIA, that we're serious about locating these terrorists and bringing them to justice.

We have done so in a number of cases, two of which I've just mentioned. We cannot expect instant responses in these cases. But as Secretary Cohen pointed out, there is no statute of limitations for terrorists. And we will work long and hard in order to find them. And when we do, we will take the appropriate response.


Q: You talk about forces that DoD has sent to East Africa. Are there additional forces on the way or is there a plan to send any additional forces to that area to assist in the investigation or to provide security for the people who are already there?

A: My understanding is, not right now. We have sent in a fairly substantial security enhancement, a hundred Marines. We'll obviously play it by ear and respond to the requests we get from the State Department, but my understanding is, right now we have enough people on the spot. We've been concentrating, of course, primarily, on first, finding people who are still alive -- that's largely over; taking care of the injured and evacuating those who need to be evacuated; and, of course, dealing with those who perished in this disaster and dealing with their families.

Q: A couple of hours ago, President Clinton sent a letter to Congress advising Congress that he's going to send troops. Is that covering the troops that have already been sent or is this --

A: I have heard that is the case, but I haven't -- I can't comment on it. In fact, one of the reasons I was delayed was I was waiting for a fax from the NSC but it didn't come so, rather than keep you all waiting, I decided to come out here. And I gather that that's a question that should go to the White House since he sent the letter.


Q: I'd like to return to the embassy bombings for one last question. We've heard a lot from the President and the Secretary of State as to improving security or taking a look at security at embassies around the world and that appropriate actions would be taken, if necessary. Where are we along those lines in studying the amount of security we have with U.S. embassies and are we close to seeing anything changing from present methods?

A: Well, first of all, this happened on Friday. Today is Tuesday. I'm sure the State Department is looking at its requirements all around the world, but as I explained earlier, the initial burst of energy here has been spent on figuring out how to help the people in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and dealing with the large human disaster there.

Second, the State Department, the FBI, and other investigators, the intelligence agencies, have focused on trying to figure out who did this and to preserve as many of the clues, the early clues, as possible and to work with other intelligence agencies to begin to piece together how this happened and who is responsible for it.

The State Department has spent approximately a billion dollars since 1986 improving the security of its embassies. They have constructed 27 new embassies that are, according to the so-called Inman standards that, I suppose to most Americans, would look fortress-like there, surrounded by nine-foot walls. They're typically far away from streets. They have big security perimeters and they look, sort of, like fortresses inside. You've probably seen these in places like -- well, Caracas, Venezuela, is where one exists. There's another one in Mascat, Oman. There are 27 of them.

In addition, they have spent a lot of money to improve security in existing embassies rather than build new ones to improve security in existing embassies. As State Department officials said on Friday, and they have said since and they will probably say again today when they have another briefing on this, they are now looking at ways to improve the security of embassies all around the world. I don't know where they stand on that.

I can tell you from the military standpoint that right after this tragedy occurred, Gen Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a message out to all of the ten commanders-in-chief, the area commanders-in-chief around the world, asking them to review their security and to make any necessary changes in light of the terrorist act in Africa. And so the CINCs have, as they do on a day-to-day basis, reviewed their security posture in light of the press they're receiving and events taking place in other parts of the world and made whatever changes were appropriate.


Q: (Inaudible) when the bombings occurred, I believe there was a JCET team that was waiting to leave Rwanda?

A: Yes.

Q: Were they deployed down to Dar es Salaam or somewhere?

A: They were going to be deployed to Dar es Salaam to enhance security there but, in fact, they weren't because we moved in some Marine Fleet Anti-terrorism [Security] Teams and the JCET has returned to its home in EUCOM.

Q: Are you looking at migrating any of the technology that was used at the Khobar bombing? Is TRW in a contract for sensor equipment? Is there any possible migration of that kind of sensor equipment to these...

A: Well, that's a good question and that's something the State Department will have to answer. Obviously, the State Department has to rebuild these embassies and presumably will -- it's up for them to comment on, but I doubt if they will rebuild the Nairobi embassy in exactly the same place. But this is one of the decisions they have to make over the next few weeks or months.

Q: Thank you.

A: You're welcome.